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Hilltops
Hartwick College's Student Newspaper

The View From Oyaron Hill

A Music Review: Cleopatra by The Lumineers

05.10.16


Tim Raimy and Jenny McInerney


On April 7th, 2016, The Lumineers, a folk rock band hailing from Denver, Colorado, released their second studio album Cleopatra in both standard and “deluxe” versions. Cleopatra was proceeded by The Lumineers’ self-titled debut album, The Lumineers, which was released in 2012. Cleopatra represents a slight shift away from the acoustic recording and instrumentation of The Lumineers, as the vocals and instrumental tracks are recorded to produce a cleaner studio sound, but maintains the same focus on organic lyrical content for which The Lumineers are known.


The album opens with the poignant small-town anthem, “Sleep on the Floor.” The singer asks his lover to “Pack yourself a toothbrush, dear, / Pack yourself a favorite blouse / […] Cause if we don’t leave this town, / Might never make it out.” The track is slow and rhythmic, setting up the feeling for the rest of the album. The next song, “Ophelia,” was described by lead singer Wesley Schultz in an NPR interview as “a long, ominous march forward in step with ‘Ho Hey,’” the hit that catapulted the band to nation-wide fame. Written in response to the band’s sudden and entirely unexpected popularity, the song features an unforgettable piano accompaniment, in addition to Schultz’s percussive syllables and unapologetically imperfect vocals, which crack and strain in accordance with the emotion of the song. 


“Ophelia” is followed by the title track, “Cleopatra,” a heartbreaking ballad whose lyric specificity calls to mind another song from The Lumineers album, “Big Parade.” The upbeat tone of the song belies its self-deprecating refrain: “I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life, / And when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time.” The song ends with a sung sigh; possibly a sigh of regret.


The fourth track, “Gun Song,” sounds vaguely like a drinking song one might hear in an English pub, the singer’s voice accompanied by a chorus of increasingly intoxicated “La, la, la, la, la”s. Following “Gun Song” is “Angela,” whose delicate vocals call to mind a lullaby, underscored by another notable piano accompaniment that adds depth and emotional weight to the song. The next track, “In the Light,” utilizes a gentle call and response between singer and guitar that shows off the lead singer’s vocal range while hearkening back sonically to “Morning Song” from The Lumineers. Likewise, “Gale Song” to some extent resembles “Slow it Down,” but unlike “Slow it Down,” which maintains a relatively consistent volume and energy, “Gale Song” grows and then fades out to a soft and almost anticlimactic ending.


The songs that follow “Gale Song” – “Long Way from Home,” “Sick in the Head,” “My Eyes,” and “Patience” – all resemble each other in chord progression and tone, but it is a mistake to dismiss the lot as all “sounding the same.” For example, “Sick in the Head” features a beautiful guitar accompaniment of running eighth notes underneath the melody, and “Patience,” the only instrumental piece on the album, serves almost as a meditation on the proceeding track, “My Eyes” – they are worth listening to in order.


While “Patience” is the last track of the standard version of Cleopatra, the deluxe version also includes four bonus tracks that are equally worth a listen. The first of these, “Where the Skies are Blue,” shifts slightly away from The Lumineer’s classification as a folk band to lean momentarily towards country, and is a tune that just begs to be sung around a campfire. The second bonus track, “Everyone Requires a Plan,” maintains the organic vocals and instrumental accompaniment that characterized The Lumineers, while the third bonus track, “White Lie,” is slightly more polished, beginning in the vocalist’s lower range and progressing up the octave to a powerful finish. 


The last bonus track is an acoustic recording of “Cleopatra” that is well worth a listen: for those who have been fans of The Lumineers since the release of their debut album, the acoustic “Cleopatra” sounds as though it would have been right at home on The Lumineers, and represents the band’s talent for storytelling and commitment to organic music that we all know and love. Cleopatra as an album overall is thus a wholly satisfying listen for old fans of The Lumineers as well as those looking to explore the band’s work for the first time.